Rhodes on the nature of nuclear war

2016-07-11

in Bombs and rockets, Books and literature, Economics, Politics, Psychology, Security

So much confusion, so much paranoia, so many good intentions, so much hard work, technical genius, cynicism, manipulation, buckpassing, buckpocketing, argument, grandstanding, risk-taking, calculation, theorizing, goodwill and bad, rhetoric and hypocrisy, so much desperation, all point to something intractable behind the problem of how to deploy sufficient and appropriate nuclear arms to protect one’s nation from a nuclear-armed opponent. There was such a beast. It was quite simply the fundamental physical fact of nuclear energy: that such power is relatively cheap to generate and essentially illimitable. Nuclear warheads cost the United States about $250,000 each: less than a fighter-bomber, less than a missile, less than a patrol boat, less than a tank. Each one can destroy a city and kill hundreds of thousands of people. “You can’t have this kind of war,” Eisenhower concluded. “There just aren’t enough bulldozers to scrape the bodies off the streets.” It followed, and follows, that there is no military solution to safety in the nuclear age: There are only political solutions. As the Danish physicist and philosopher Niels Bohr summarized the dilemma succinctly for a friend in 1948, “We are in an entirely new situation that cannot be resolved by war.” The impossibility of resolving militarily the new situation that knowledge of how to release nuclear energy imposes on the world is the reason the efforts on both sides look so desperate and irrational: They are built on what philosophers call a category mistake, an assumption that nuclear explosives are military weapons in any meaningful sense of the term, and that a sufficient quantity of such weapons can make us secure. They are not, and they cannot.

Rhodes, Richard. Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race. p. 101 (hardcover, italics in original)

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan July 11, 2016 at 1:58 pm
quotables September 22, 2019 at 2:17 am

“They are built on what philosophers call a category mistake, an assumption that nuclear explosives are military weapons in any meaningful sense of the term, and that a sufficient quantity of such weapons can make us secure. They are not, and they cannot.”

. November 25, 2019 at 7:04 pm

Why I’d never press the nuclear button
Nicola Sturgeon

It’s absurd that a willingness to kill millions is now seen as a virility test for leadership, and I want no part

Milan November 23, 2021 at 8:42 pm

After more than four decades and three major wars during which Israel has been “thinking the unthinkable,” little has changed. If anything, the experience of the wars deepened the basic Israeli outlook that nuclear weapons may have important symbolic and political value but lack genuine military value and should not be recognized as military weapons systems. Generations of Israeli defense intellectuals rediscover the same lesson: how difficult—indeed, nearly impossible—it is to construe realistic military scenarios that could call for, let alone justify, the use of nuclear weapons. As Israel recognized in the 1967 war, nuclear thinking is at odds with the principles of Israel’s conventional warfare strategy. Even in the 1973 war, the only war that brought Israel truly close to the brink, it would have been extremely difficult to construe a scenario in which nuclear weapons could be used sensibly. Israel has no military reason to “introduce” nuclear weapons, and it has many political reasons not to do so. The chief political role of nuclear weapons is to enforce the realization that any call for the “destruction of Israel” is irrational. Short of nuclear attack, it is inconceivable that Israel would ever use nuclear weapons to defend itself against any military threats. The legacy of Israel’s nuclear weapons is that they are truly unusable.

Cohen, Avner. The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb. Columbia University Press, 2010. p. 81

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